[lit-ideas] The perverted Logician photographer

  • From: "Lawrence Helm" <lawrencehelm@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "Lit-Ideas " <Lit-Ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Tue, 15 Oct 2013 14:26:35 -0700

Actually, the title of Edmund Wilson's article was "C. L. Dodgson: The
Poet-Logician," but Wilson has very little to say about Dodgson's poetry, a
bit more about his achievements as a logician and quite a lot about his
fondness for little girls.  Had I heard that before?  I can't be sure but it
didn't sound utterly unfamiliar.  What was new to me was the idea that
Dodgson was an accomplished photographer.  Helmet Gernsheim wrote Lewis
Carroll Photographer in 1950.  I stopped reading, looked the book up on
Amazon, found a paperback copy in "like new" condition for $3.95 and ordered
it.  Turning back to Wilson I read that "Mr. Gernsheim considers Dodgson
'the most outstanding photographer of children of the nineteenth century'
and after Julia Margaret Cameron, 'probably the most distinguished amateur
portraitist of the mid-Victorian era.'"  


Reading some reviews of Gernsheim's book it seems that many in the 20th
century were convinced that Lewis Carroll was a pedophile.  Wilson
considered that and thought not, at least not one that acted upon his
thoughts.  But wasn't he acting upon his thoughts by taking photos of these
little girls, some of them nude.  Wilson observed that no one would be able
to get away with such behavior in the 20th century - nor in the 21st century
I would add.  


Wilson admired Through the Looking-Glass: The Life of Lewis Carroll by
Florence Becker Lennon.  He notes its faults then writes, "But this study
is, nevertheless, the best thing that has yet been written about Lewis
Carroll.  The literary criticism is excellent; the psychological insight
sometimes brilliant; and Mrs. Lennon has brought together, from the most
scattered and various sources, a good deal of information.  The impression
that she actually conveys was what Dodgson's existence was like is more
convincing than some of her theories.  Mrs. Lennon believes that Charles
Dodgson was intimidated by his clergyman father, so that he felt himself
obliged to take orders and never dared question the creed of the Church.
She seems to believe that he might otherwise have developed as an important
original thinker.  She also worries about what she regards as his frustrated
sexual life: if he had only, she sighs, been capable of a mature attachment
for a woman which would have freed him from his passion for little girls!"


In regard to Dodgson's novel Sylvie and Bruno, Wilson writes, "Mrs. Lennon
has, I believe, been the first to point out the exact and complicate
parallels between the dreams and actualities that make this book
psychologically interesting . . . but the novel for grown-ups is otherwise
childish; and in mathematics and logic, according to the expert opinions
cited by Mrs. Lennon, he either ignored or had never discovered the more
advanced work in these fields, and did not perhaps get even so far as in his
exploration of dreams."


Wilson wrote his initial article in 1932; later, collecting it in the volume
The Shores of Light, published in 1952 he added to it, primarily perhaps
because of the publication of Gernsheim's Lewis Carroll Photographer in 1950
and of Lennon's Victoria through the Looking Glass: The Life of Lewis
Carroll in 1945. 


The originality of Dodgson might qualify him as "great" in the mind of F. R.
Leavis as well although I don't recall mention of Dodgson in anything I've
read by Leavis.  Both Leavis and Wilson would I'm sure consider William
Blake "great" and their opinions would be shared by Harold Bloom, Northrop
Frye and many others, but what if Blake's originality were fueled by
madness?  And what if Dodgson's were fueled by arrested development?


We know that any writer's work is influenced by his presuppositions.
Perhaps these presuppositions are based on childhood lessons, teachings and
things a person hears or reads, but perhaps sometimes they are developed out
of madness or other influences deviating from the "norm."  On a scale of
greatness where the greatest gets 100, shouldn't we penalize such writers as
Blake and Dodgson if their "originality" was to some extent due to their
arrested or perverted development?   I'm inclined to penalize them, but I'm
not sure I'm right in doing so . . . or, madness in any case would have to
be so qualified that any penalizing would have to be severely questioned.
I'm thinking now of bipolar disorder which used to be called
manic-depressive.  We all have ups and downs and writers can be expected to
write when they are up and feeling good or perhaps down and feeling so
depressed that only writing out of their depression can bring them relief.
If we concede that it is okay to write when we are feeling like it and that
it is equally okay to not write when we don't feel like it then that puts
into question any penalty applied to a manic-depressive.  And if we don't
penalize a manic-depressive, how do we justify penalizing a paranoiac or a



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